Top 5 Things to Watch in Markets in the Week Ahead

Top 5 Things to Watch in Markets in the Week Ahead

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will be in the spotlight again this week when he testifies before Congress in the wake of the U.S. central bank’s largest rate hike since 1994. Powell’s comments, along with those of several other Fed officials set to speak during the week, will be closely watched as markets try to gauge the size of the expected rate hike at the Fed’s upcoming July meeting. The U.S. economic calendar is light, but updates on the housing market’s health will be in focus amid signs of rapid cooling. European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde will appear before the European Parliament on Monday and will face questions on the bank’s new crisis-fighting tool. Meanwhile, equity market volatility looks set to continue along with the rout in cryptos. Here’s what you need to know to start your week.

Powell Testimony

Powell is due to testify before Congress in hearings on Wednesday and Thursday and is expected to reiterate the Fed’s commitment to curbing inflation, which is running at the highest in 40 years.

The Fed on Friday said its commitment to fight inflation is “unconditional”. U.S. annual inflation rose at the fastest pace since 1981 May.

Last Wednesday, the Fed hiked rates by 75 basis points and flagged a faster pace of future rate hikes. Powell said the Fed could not control all the factors contributing to higher inflation, like the war in Ukraine, which has pushed up energy prices.

Market participants fear the Fed’s aggressive rate hike path risks pushing the economy into recession. With signs of slowing growth and U.S. stocks now in the bear market territory, Powell may be pressed for more details on how the Fed can curb inflation without causing too many economic and market ructions.

Lagarde Testimony

ECB President Christine Lagarde is to testify before the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday and is likely to be closely questioned about progress on the bank’s new crisis-fighting tool since its announcement last week.

The ECB is devising plans for a new purchase scheme to fight “fragmentation”, or a widening gap between the borrowing costs paid by Germany and more indebted countries on the Eurozone’s periphery, such as Italy, Spain and Greece.

Government borrowing costs have soared on the Eurozone periphery since the ECB announced plans earlier this month to raise interest rates to tackle inflation which is currently running at over four times the ECB’s target of 2%.

With markets now pricing in a 25 basis point rate hike by the ECB in July and at least one 50 basis point hike by September, some analysts think the new tool may allow the central bank scope to implement more aggressive rate hikes if needed.

U.S. Economic Data

The economic calendar is light in the week ahead, with updates on the housing sector’s health the main highlight. Data on Tuesday on existing home sales is expected to show a slowdown in May as mortgage rates continue to rise. The U.S. is to release data on new home sales on Friday with markets looking for signs of a bounce after May’s 16.6% plunge.

Data on initial jobless claims are due out on Thursday after last week’s figures pointed to some cooling in the labour market through conditions remain tight. Preliminary data on manufacturing and service sector activity is also due out on Thursday.

Meanwhile, several Fed officials, including James Bullard, Thomas Barkin, Charles Evans and Patrick Harker are due to make appearances during the week.

Stock Market Volatility

Each of the three major Wall Street indexes fell for the third week in a row, hit by fears over the growing likelihood of a recession as the Fed and other global central banks try to stamp out inflation.

The benchmark S&P 500 index has slumped about 23% year-to-date and recently confirmed a bear market began on Jan. 3. The Dow is on the cusp of confirming its own bear market.

“Right now, you are going to see a lot of volatility, and it is primarily going to be because of the fact the Fed is going to be front-end loading all these rates hikes and just trying to gauge the inflation picture, and it is very clouded right now,” Megan Horneman, director of the portfolio strategy at Verdence Capital Advisors in Hunt Valley, Maryland told Reuters.

“Just expect volatility. It is here to stay. It is going to be here until we get a little bit more clarity on have we reached peak inflation.”

U.S. markets will be closed on Monday for Juneteenth.

Crypto Winter

Bitcoin was trading at around $19,571 on Sunday, falling to a low of $17,593 on Saturday – its weakest level since December 2020.

It has lost about 60% of its value this year, while rival cryptocurrency Ethereum-backed ether is down 74%. In 2021, Bitcoin peaked at more than $68,000.

“Breaking $20,000 shows you that confidence has collapsed for the crypto industry and that you’re seeing the latest stresses,” Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA, told Reuters on Saturday.

Moya said, “even the loudest crypto cheerleaders from the big rally are now quiet. They are still optimistic long term, but they are not saying this is the time to buy the dip.”

The cryptocurrency sector has been hit by growing signs of stress in the industry after last month’s collapse of the Terra blockchain. Earlier this month, lending company Celsius froze withdrawals and transfers between accounts, while crypto companies started laying off employees. Crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital said it suffered large losses last week.

The rout has coincided with a selloff in stocks which could further challenge investor confidence in the crypto industry.

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